A recent Oregon State University study published in the current issue of American Journal of Health Promotion - reveals that light-intensity exercise for older adults such as easy walks and household chores can be nearly as effective as moderate or vigorous exercise if enough of that activity is done. Specifically, the research indicates that 300 minutes a week of light exercise provides some significant health benefits for people over the age of 65.
Current medical recommendations suggest that all adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. So the researchers set out to find if exercise of less intensity done more often produces similar health benefits.
The data examined was from the 2003 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Only the 2003 to 2006 surveys were examined because they were the only available cycles that used objectively measured physical activity data. These surveys were conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics and are considered a national representative sample of the U.S. population.
Older adults who participated in light-intensity exercise activities for 300 minutes or more were 18 percent healthier, overall, than peers who did not log that much light activity.
They had lower body mass index (BMI), smaller waist circumference, better insulin rates and were less likely to have chronic diseases.
Light exercise appeals to people over 65 and the activities dont generally require the approval of a physician. In particular, older adults may be more reluctant to participate in moderate to vigorous exercise because of health concerns such as fear of injury.
You get a nice array of health benefits by doing five hours of light physical activity per week,' said Brad Cardinal, a professor in the college of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, and a national expert on the benefits of physical activity and a co-author of the study. There appears to be some real value in devoting at least three percent of the 168 hours available in a week to these light forms of physical activity. This research suggests that doing something is dramatically better than doing nothing. For the average, every day person, that is a much more palatable message than the current guidelines that emphasize moderate to vigorous exercise.
The findings are part of a growing body of evidence that indicate light activity can lead to improved health, but more study is needed to better understand how the two are connected, Cardinal continued. It may also be time to rethink current exercise guidelines, with new recommendations geared specifically to adults over age 65 that emphasize the benefits and ease of participation in light activity.
These findings highlight that, in addition to promoting moderate-intensity physical activity to older adults, we should not neglect the importance of engaging in lower-intensity, movement-based behaviors when the opportunity arises, added lead author Paul Loprinzi, who earned his Ph.D. at Oregon State and now is an assistant professor of exercise science and health promotion at the University of Mississippi. For example, instead of talking on the phone in a seated position, walking while talking will help increase our overall physical activity level.
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